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Flexible Working: Can Employees and Employers Find the Perfect Balance?

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It is well-documented that the UK has the longest working hours in Europe, yet does this make us more productive as a nation? And are we happy?  Sinead Hasson, MD and founder of recruitment company Hasson Associates reflects on flexible working and how a “work smart and work fast” motto can work for employers and employees.

Flexible working is a topic that continues to be part of the corporate agenda and is one that I’ve been thinking about a lot recently.  A very senior and well respected recruiter I knew when I first started out would regularly shepherd her team out of the office once they’d achieved what they needed to achieve, regardless of the time on the clock.  She wanted them to strike a healthy balance between being productive and motivated at work and also having a life outside of it. More than anything she loathed the “presenteeism” culture that can be prevalent in many office environments. Being the first one in and the last one to leave every night and forgoing your lunch breaks isn’t going to get you noticed for the right reasons in many organisations these days, and increasingly companies are not only recognising this, but acting on it, and creating working environments and initiatives which address the wellbeing of their employees.

I am seeing an increasing number of companies embracing a healthier approach to working and “working smarter” initiatives.  Promoting a flexible and open approach to working by encouraging its people across the entire business to avoid being desk bound wherever possible is a sentiment that is being practised more and more.  As long as workers have an internet connection and are on the end of their mobile, they are expected to work in different locations, whether that be other office spaces, open collaboration zones, coffee shops, their homes, wherever.  And this isn’t at the expense of productivity, meeting deadlines or fostering strong team relationships, as integral to ensuring a good balance between work and life are stacks of social events, educational courses, health and wellbeing treatments and just some good old fashioned face-to-face catch ups.  And today’s millennials and upcoming generations are demonstrating that they value achievements more than time served.  It was only twenty years ago when the work culture was definitely all about working long hours to get ahead.  Now it’s about success and goals and that doesn’t require long hours.

I increasingly hear from candidates, friends and associates alike that they’ve had enough of relentlessly long days and full time office hours (on top of commuting) and they’re re-evaluating how they want to live and work and are now trying to rebalance their lives and the time they spend at work and the time they spend with family for example.

Added to this there is a noticeable increase in people’s desire to work part time, go freelance or just have more flexible hours.  Working from home at least once or twice a week is becoming very much the norm now. Yet there are still companies which continue to foster a rather rigid approach to their staff physically being in an office for very long periods of time. Sometimes a few small adjustments on the part of an organisation, such as staggering the working hours of a team so that there’s always cover at the start and end of the day or introducing the option to work from home or remotely once a week can make all the difference to the happiness and wellbeing of employees.

However, before we get carried away and start daydreaming we can all work from a beach in Thailand with an iPad in one hand and a Piña Colada in the other, we might be a bit disappointed.  Little steps and small adjustments are the way the majority of businesses are going but it’s important that the momentum is maintained in order to have a healthy and happy workforce.  According to The Work Foundation over half of organisations in the UK are likely to have adopted flexible working by 2017 with over 70 percent of companies following suit by 2020 so companies are waking up to the benefits so things are certainly moving in the right direction.

And at the end of last year a YouGov survey in the UK concluded that Brits think working a shorter day of 7 hours is more productive than the current average of eight or nine hours, whilst in Sweden they have been experimenting with the introduction of a six hour working day.  This is partly in a bid to challenge the conventional belief that people can be consistently productive and effective for a solid 8 or 9 hours.

Aside from the obvious health benefits associated with avoiding long hours in largely sedentary jobs, the benefits of feeling more focused, and going home earlier than usual to spend time doing what you like to do sound pretty appealing don’t they?

So, if you’re looking for a work-life balance which will suit you, spend some time seeking out the companies whose working cultures match what you’re looking for.  Check out the organisations which invest in the wellbeing of their people. And equally, if you’re hiring people into your business, do consider implementing some small but impactful flexible working changes which will keep your teams happy, productive and motivated.  Because there are plenty of companies which are starting to embrace these changes and attracting great candidates in the process.